– By Paulie Spiceflow –
The era of drone wars may be upon us. Scenes from Star Wars: Phantom Menace may soon become reality. Today, the US deploys drone aircraft capable of launching strikes on enemies, while other drones conduct reconnaissance and track targets. Another new drone is a possible robo-pack mule, a quadruped that is all but impossible to knock over. The development of drone armies has the potential to drive down the human cost of war but could also result in equal or greater destruction.
It won’t be long before we are past predator drones, bomb disposal units, and pack mules. The US military is making serious progress toward drone combat units. DARPA, the military’s advanced research agency, is working on a new “system of systems” with large numbers of drones cooperating with one another to destroy threats. The idea is also called “swarming drones.” If successful, it would be a significant step toward fully automated combat operations, removing the need for flesh and blood soldiers and pilots.
Before we get too excited, we should consider the consequences of building drone armies. Jacob Foxx has written on this idea a few times in the past and is currently working on several new stories that involve drones. We all agree that war is horrible and that nations must only engage in it when absolutely necessary to their security. The problem is political leaders sometimes have perverse incentives to engage in military endeavors to build up their power at home. There is also the threat of rogue leaders, who are willing to engage in war regardless of cost. Many care little for the lives of their people as long as their own political status is enhanced. Leaders avoid war if it could cost them their power or security.
Today, most leaders shy away from military force because it is expensive, politically costly, and extremely risky. In other words, it is hard to win. Engaging in wars of choice can have serious consequences, especially in democracies. President Bush saw his popularity collapse as the Iraq War dragged on. The Republican Party lost power in 2006 as a result. Before that, President Lyndon Johnson became so unpopular due to his Vietnam War, he did not bother trying to run for a second term in 1968.
The reason wars are politically costly is because of the human losses. Drones can change that. There would be no flag-covered coffins returning home, nor traumatizing stories of atrocities leaked home from weary soldiers. Drones are not necessarily cheap but they don’t tell war stories. Even those uneasy of war, may be more comfortable with fighting if they knew almost none of their own people would be put at risk.
Imagine if a ruthless dictator had a drone army. The costs of war politically would be so low, he or she would be tempted to use force at all times, particularly against his own people. Drone armies are incapable of betraying their commander-in-chief, after all.
There is a reason the Sith preferred drones or obedient clones. Nobody would miss them. It gave them the power to reshape the galaxy to their will with little political opposition. War became constant after the republic collapsed and the Jedi were all but eradicated. To maintain a measure of peace and stability, war must remain horrible and costly. That is why we must be leery of the new drone armies.